Friday, January 12, 2018

Reactions to Undercover High, ep 1

Hello!  I haven't written in this blog for awhile.

I've been highly anticipating the release of "Undercover High", being aired starting this month on A&E.  Not only do I have multiple personal connections to the city and school, its also a subject very near and dear, and with much conflict in my heart:  The current state of public education.  I didn't realize the expansive emotional response I was going to have to it.  Amusement, pride, screaming (my husband appeared TWICE in the opening credits), shock (but not surprise), and tears.

First of all, I was very nervous at how HP was going to be portrayed:  how much of this was going to be fabricated.  However, I was very pleased with the first episode.

My first concern was for the staff.  We live in a world where teachers are often blamed for problems in school.  I know, from first hand knowledge, that the HP staff, like other school's across America, is full of competent adults who truly care about students, and are working their tails off everyday at it.  The show reinforced that.  One point for Undercover High.

My second concern was for the students.  HP has a history of getting the short end of the stick when it comes to positive press in Topeka.  As a student from that city, I know it has been decades of false appearances.  But, the show's first episode highlighted truly amazing kids, with a promise to see more in future episodes.  I am excited about this.  Another point for Undercover High.

My third concern was the spin they are going to take.  It appears as if the show has put forth considerable effort to see the truth in these classrooms.  But that's yet to be determined.

The conflict in my heart, which bubbled to the surface while watching, revolves around my decision to leave my classroom a few years ago.  My life as a teacher was a constant emotional rollercoaster.  Extreme highs and extreme lows.  The truly amazing students and moments I shared with them fed me the precious nutrients I needed to get through another day.  The stressful situations would send me home in great conflict and sometimes tears.  There was rarely a day that I didn't see fireworks behind my eyeballs at an outrageous choice of a student that caused a problem in the classroom.  There are so many hidden gems of kids that are overlooked because the riffraff of other students controlling the school.  My biggest struggle was keeping myself separated from these stressful events and remembering that I'm the adult and they are a child needing the guidance of a caring adult to help them through this hard time of adolescence.

This first episode touched on many of the overwhelming obstacles I faced everyday.
1.  Cell phones.  OMG.
     I'm so glad this is being addressed.  I noticed a considerable change in student's willingness to learn about 5 years ago.  This was around the time that every student started having a mobile device, with unlimited network access, in their hands.  Coincidence?  Teaching became that much more exhausting, because I had to entertain them, or endure the sighs and eyerolls and constant complaining from the general student population.   But I will never be more entertaining than their mobile games and group chats.  Additionally, the show talked about cell phone addiction.  I have seen students get downright hostile over having access to their cell phone.

2.  Noncompliance to simple expectations
     There was the girl who said they aren't supposed to have cell phones in class and they do it anyway.  They just don't care about the rules.  The school I spend most of my time at, profanity, from my perception, has become such a large issue.  They know they aren't supposed to talk like that in the classroom, but they do anyway.   I heard a student defending his language by explaining that the young teachers don't mind when they cuss.   This very well may be their perception, but many are  just plain choosing not to comply.  In fact, a student said to me just last week "Why should I change my language?  It doesn't affect us.  Its only affecting you."  (*Fireworks behind the eyeballs*)

3.  Disrespect, subtle and outright, towards adults
     There's some uncomfortable footage of a teacher's classroom where the teacher is calmly trying to redirect student's attention to the lesson, away from their personal conversations and cell phones.  The teacher made a sarcastic remark, and so a student fired one back.  Shortly after, the student who was asked to turn down his music, and instead made it louder.  There are some teachers (magicians, if you asked me) that can handle these situations with grace, humor, and expertise.  Teachers who have THE THING.  I was never that teacher.  The murky waters of disengagement, apathy, and bad attitude stumped me every time.

4.  Ruthlessness of students towards each other
      On one hand, there were some truly heartwarming moments while the new students were making friends.  Such wonderful kids at HP.  Those hispanic girls looking out for each other and giving the new (undercover) students the lay of the land, made me feel encouraged by the existence of humanity in the world.   But I'm also astounded every day how mean young people are to each other.  The reveal of the group chat sexually objectifying the new girl was utterly shocking.  Not at all surprising, though.  In my job as piano accompanist, sometimes I feel a little like I'm undercover myself.   I'm not a teacher, technically, and rarely do I assert myself as an authority figure.  I tend to stay quiet and mind my own business at the piano.   Students have said absurdly awful things within my earshot.  Sometimes I speak up.  Most of the time, I don't.  Its a strange existence behind the piano sometimes.

The show also gave considerable effort, more so in the "extras" discussions with the psychologists, that what we saw at HP is happening in every school in America.  Another point for Undercover High.  Absolutely.  As a staff member in a school 50 miles east, I can proclaim with utter assurance that this is happening EVERYWHERE.  But I also think we would be lying to ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that these issues are happening at different degrees in different communities, and likely in connection to low SES classifications.

Despite the fact that this show is undoubtedly causing a distraction for the students, staff, and community of HP right now, I am optimistic about the conversations the show will create.  I have been utterly obsessed with reading reactions and comments on social media.  Some of them are short-sighted and hurtful.   I hope this will serve as a wake up call to many, most of all students, parents and leaders in education.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

6 month visits

I've officially been promoted/demoted to 6 month doctor visits.  I saw my surgeon in late April and she informed me that she was setting me free.  Coincidently, she is also MOVING.  (Aaaah!  That woman literally saved my life, and now she's moving away.  Happy for her.  New job opportunity in a different city.  But don't leave me!)

So I'm just on a 6 month visit cycle with my oncologist from here on out.   I saw her this morning.   Everything was good.  She is super thorough (and ticklish) with her breast exams and there were no concerns.  (And, of course, my February mammograms were clear.)

I've noticed that my menstrual cycles have occasionally been weird.  That's something I'm supposed to keep an eye on, because Tamoxifen has been linked to cancer in the lady parts.  Not ovarian.  A different part, I can't remember.  But unusual spotting is a sign to watch out for.  I'm not having any spotting, so that's good.  But every few months, my cycle will be super short.  Like, I'm usually in the area of 31 days, and then randomly I'll have a month where it was 20 days!  My oncologist was not at all concerned.  She said "oh its just..." and said a name, and then explained that its when my body doesn't ovulate and goes ahead and bleeds it out.  Makes total sense to me, given the effects of chemo and the zoladex shots I did.  So, COOL.  I'll stop worrying then.  But I have been writing down each month's number just in case.

Also I did notice that I've gained 5ish pounds throughout this year.  Which, yea, is totally not a big deal. Nothing was said to me about it, but I don't want to have any extra weight hanging around, like I did before I was diagnosed.  Its just me being super particular about variables that could invite cancer to come back.  Extra weight is one of those, because that promotes the production of extra estrogen.  Hormone imbalance = bad.  I've been lacking in the area of physical activity, recently.

I like walking, and have been occasionally going to Rock Chalk Park's outdoor trails, especially with the weather being SUPER nice.  I need to do more of that though.  When I was teaching, I would often take a 10-15min walk outside or in the stairwell during my plan.  Since my schedule is not the same everyday as an accompanist, I stopped doing that.  I also, with people not knowing me or what I do in certain buildings, do NOT want to appear as if I have extra time on my hands and have time to go out and take a walk.  Which is ridiculous, I know.   I'll be sure to prioritize that when school starts again.  Too much time sitting on the piano bench!

Too much time on my couch too.  I'm such a couch potato!!  Having my pet sits has helped with that some, but I still won't be super busy this summer.  I don't have a show or anything else that I'm doing, except for City Band on Wednesday nights.  So I made a rule:  I'm not allowed to turn on the TV or scroll on my phone until I've done my piano practicing for the day.  My goal is to improve my reading skills this summer.  Not that they aren't already fine.  I just have room to improve.  I should perhaps add physical activity to this screen time requirement!!  haha.

So that's all.  It was super awesome leaving school on the last day, and not having any checkout procedures or any long to-do list I had to do.  I did work willingly in the high school's choir room with different organizational things.   I also left a pile of stuff that I can do when I return in the fall.  Because, I don't actually have to do any of those things.  Not now, or ever.  Not my responsibility.  I was volunteering to do them, to be helpful.  And once my last day came, oh well, I'm done.  I'm not allowed to work past this date.  See you in the fall!  Peace out.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


I knew when taking this piano accompanist position that I wouldn't be sticking with it for 20+ years until retiring.  Its still unclear how long I'll do it.   But what I do know is that Superboss is retiring in 6 years, and if history proves itself, I'll be ready to change things up around that time.

I've come to view this time as a sabbatical.  A time of reflection and renewed perspective.

"In recent times, "sabbatical" has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something. In the modern sense, one takes sabbatical typically to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or travelling extensively for research. Some universities and other institutional employers of scientists, physicians, and academics offer the opportunity to qualify for paid sabbatical as an employee benefit, called sabbatical leave. Some companies offer unpaid sabbatical for people wanting to take career breaks; this is a growing trend in the United Kingdom, with 20% of companies having a career break policy, and a further 10% considering introducing one.
The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described in several places in the Bible. For example, in Leviticus 25, there is a commandment to desist from working the fields during the seventh year."

I also came across the three "life plans", in searching about this:

1. Linear Life Plan:
Where education is for the young, work is for the middle-aged, and leisure is for the elderly.
2. Cyclic Life Plan:
You educate for a period, and then you work for a period, and then you leisure (re-create) for a period. And the cycle continues throughout life.
3. The Blended Life Plan:
You may educate, work, and have leisure all in the same month—for the rest of your life.

With the ball and chain of my teaching career having released me, I have increasingly felt a calling towards contributing to teacher wellness.  It started with Work Your Proper Duty Day.  It would've ended there if it not been for cancer.  Then I got super serious about it.  I quit my job over it.  Took a different job with less stress, less time commitment, less preparation.  Consequently, also less fulfillment, less purpose, less contribution.  Its a dichotomy I struggle with in moments of motivation.  (Its also a relief when I'm feeling unmotivated.)

For a very short period recently, I considered pursuing an administration degree, in order to put myself in a position to influence teacher wellness.   But I keep envisioning myself being pushed into a principal job.  Re: Discipline, evaluations, angry parents, supervising too many evening events....  No thank you.  Yuck.  And I would totally suck at that!

So then I started thinking (again):  Music Education Professor.  Academia <--you have to wobble your head while you read that.  Well, first I'll have to get my Masters Degree, and then my Doctorate if I ever want to be considered for a job, of which I will have to consider the possibility of relocating for a job.  

I've considered working on my Masters for YEARS, but I was always too busy and overwhelmed with my job to actually do it.  Then I quit my job, and now I'm like, well if you spend the time and money to get your Masters, you darn well better get a job where you can use it and move up on the pay scale.  

I could go back into the classroom with renewed purpose and knowledge, if I wanted.  There are some circumstances where I would deeply consider it, but what are the chances that those circumstances would be presented to me?  Or I could decide to keep going and pursue a Doctorate and a job in Academia.  I actually feel excited by the thought of it.  I've always been happiest as a student.  It would allow me opportunities to consider further career adjustments.  The way I see it, this "day job" is the perfect situation for furthering my education.  (Not meaning to demean the piano accompanist as a career when referring to it as the day job. It is a full time busy career that not just any joe-shmoe could do.  I'm just speaking as person who is meandering in figuring out her direction, and has not yet embraced it as her career direction, which I very well could do.)

I didn't go to KMEA this year, which was super weird .  It was ultimately due to embarrassment over going.  What would I do there? What sessions would I attend?  I would've wanted to go to the instrumental things, but my job is in choral music now.

I've also finally admitted to myself that I'm embarrassed about quitting my job, even though it was the right thing to do and I'm happier because of it.  The hardships of teaching in poverty have bested me.  If it wasn't for cancer and changing priorities with my health, I would've kept right on doing it.  What kind of life would that've been?  With my thresholds for stress and anxiousness being completely reset, I've realized just how awful it was.  The sunday night blues were torturous.  The end of summer was pretty much Panic Attack City.  SERIOUSLY!  I had no idea, it was so bad.  Public school teaching is ridiculous.  

I put in my time doing the good work.  I know what its all about.  So I wonder if I actually have a lot to offer in higher education, or if I would just be a total schmuck.    
In my 9 years of teaching experience, I've taught:
-elementary school band
-middle school and high school band
-elementary general music
-elementary choir
-middle school orchestra
-middle school and high school choir (as an accompanist)

And in two completely different community environments.  It appears I have a lot of experience to offer future music education students.  (And a lot of advice to give in balancing their work-personal lives.)


I don't know.

This could just be passing thoughts and aspirations.  Or it could be real.  We will see.

Meanwhile, I'll continue my shmita.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I had my 2 year mammogram/boob sandwich X-rays done today.
Old hat.  I've done this before, was in an out in under 30 minutes, with no trauma done.  I know some women are very sore and tender when it comes to this X-ray, but I am not.  Not a big deal at all.  And, I got to go and enjoy the rest of my 70-degree sunny day!
The nurse said the radiologist would read the results on Monday, comparing them to last year's pictures, to see if there are any changes.  If anything causes concern, they will call me to come back for more pictures.  If I don't hear from them, I'll just be receiving a letter in the mail.  And I'll see my surgeon next in April.
I'm not concerned, but there is that little bit of anxiousness lurking in the back of my brain.  I tried to decipher from her face as she was looking from her computer if there was anything weird, but of course, I'm sure they are really good at disguising their facial expressions with this kind of thing.  So, we will see!

I read an article, The Disappearing Educator, today, and related to it in abundance.  Particularly this about trauma, and specifically "secondary trauma":
"[...] it’s no secret that teachers in urban and low-income schools are especially at-risk. The reason why occurred to her at a professional development session she attended to learn about the effects of trauma on kids.
“I thought, Wow, our teachers are experiencing the same ‘symptoms,’ so to speak,” said Giallombardo, president of the Battle Creek Education Association.
After further research she learned there was a name for the phenomenon, secondary trauma, in which people in helping occupations suffer burnout faster—from carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders and being asked to solve problems too big for individuals to fix alone."

Well, that's all my thoughts for today!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Two year Cancer-versary

Yesterday marked 2 years as a cancer survivor! Boom!  After an unusually busy weekend, I decided to play hooky from work this afternoon and go celebrate, by enjoying some of my favorite things that downtown Lawrence has to offer.   Picked a nice day for it.  Its cloudy but the temperature is nice.  60 degrees.  Businesses have their doors and windows open.  A tease of spring, before it gets cold (and snows!) later this week.  Sigh...


Yoga class.

Ladybird Lunch.


Coffee shop time.

I haven't published anything in my blog for awhile, I noticed!  I haven't had much of note to say.   (all the craziness in politics this past few months was consuming my mind, but I WILL NOT BE WRITING OF SUCH THINGS.  In fact, I went on a radio ban last week.  I just couldn't handle listening to the news.)

I have been sometimes frustrated at work recently.  I realized, when I come home annoyed and frustrated, it was because I was caught in situations where I was forced to do things that ARE NOT  my job.  Lots of teacher absences, especially this time of year.  I do not like being a babysitter.  I am not skillful at convincing reluctant students to be productive in their teacher's absence.  Most of the time, I'm able to disappear and make myself useful, doing my job, in a different location.

It can just be uncomfortable.  I can mind my own business (and feel guilty like I'm not being a responsible adult) or I can get up in the business and be subjected to unpleasantness and frustration.  Its an odd situation to be in.  And doesn't happen very often.  Just more than normal this time of year.

Its almost like there's this teacher-demon inside of me, and it wants to do A THING, and heather-piano-accompanist, says no, don't do THAT THING.  That thing isn't your job, and then I end up doing THE THING, and regretting it.  Heather, just mind your own business.  You are no longer in charge of discipline, or instructional decisions.  But the teacher-demon is like, how can you just sit there, and let this happen.

Its the beauty of the situation, and also the ugly of the situation.

Other than that unpleasantness, things are fine.

So that's all the news for now.  I have my yearly mammogram scheduled for later this month.  I'm sure I'll take some time to write something then!

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Hair update!
I finally got my haircut, for the first time since April.  I was growing a serious mullet.  Now its shorter in the back and long on the sides.  Pretty much close to what my hair used to be, ya know, before all that silly hair-loss madness!  Yeay, normalcy.

So the past couple days have been irrationally dramatic.  I'm definitely among the 49.7% of Americans that think the country is officially CrazyTown.  As I was stomping around the house and throwing a temper tantrum on post-election day I realized:  when did I become so...."OLD"!?  Me?  Yelling about politics, before 7am on a Wednesday?!

I started thinking about this transition to oldness.  When did it happen....

Well, I....

1.  got married.

2.  turned 30.

3.  got a new job.

4.  was faced with the possibility of terminal illness.

5.  changed careers.

6.  became a homeowner.

7.  listen primarily to talk radio in my car.

8.  discovered mushrooms are among my favorite things.

9.  require a mug of caffeinated warm beverage at all times in order to function.

10.  shudder at the thought of staying out past 9:30pm.

11.  became thoroughly disgruntled with politics.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Glitter Cocoon

Yea, I haven't written in awhile.  I've had various blog topics brewing in my head recently:  the black lives matter movement, the election, and a response to a breast cancer article that I read.  But I'm not in the mood for any of those serious topics at the moment.

So instead, I will share a collection of "this is me" pictures I've collected off the world-wide web recently.

                                               cocooning on said couch ----->

I'm currently killing time before a concert tonight.  I'm snacking on a "Tasty Tater" juice (sweet potatoes, pineapple, and lime).  It might be the most delicious and beautiful juice I have ever enjoyed.  It is the color of the sunset.  

And, current hair pic (I haven't had a haircut since April...).  This is 15 months post-chemo: